Darden School Professor Speaks From Her Heart and Mind at University of Virginia Rally for Teresa Sullivan

25/06/2012

Rally for Honor PowellA crowd of thousands gathered on the Lawn of the University of Virginia Sunday to take part in a Rally for Honor, calling for a reinstatement of University President Teresa A. Sullivan. At the rally, more than 20 speakers addressed students, U.Va. faculty members and members of the greater Charlottesville community.

Professor Elizabeth Powell spoke on behalf of the Darden School of Business, sharing perspectives from her students in the MBA for Executives program, who participated in an online discussion board opened by Powell to give her students a voice.

"What I find most fascinating about this whole ordeal is the BOV's communication strategies," said one student.

"The justification for change must be presented with intellectual honesty," said another student, who offered ways that Darden could move ahead.

For her part, Powell told the audience that her reasons for speaking were both personal and professional. She noted her two U.Va. degrees and the pride she feels in Darden's Dean Robert F. Bruner, who took a stand in support of Sullivan's reinstatement.

Rally for Honor Powell Speaks"I'm profoundly proud of the Darden School and its solidarity with the University of Virginia, as demonstrated by Bob Bruner's signature on the deans' letter to the BOV asking for the reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan," Powell said to thunderous applause.

Powell also asked the audience to refrain from the "easy discourse" of judging people in the business realm.

"I challenge you to have more discernment, and judgment and wisdom, and refrain from stock stereotypes about our students and our school," Powell added.

In addition to the 3,000 people estimated to have attended the event, more than 8,000 others  watched a live video stream of the rally. The gathering, which was organized primarily by students, also included music and a sea of signs in support of Sullivan and calling for the resignation of Helen Dragas, rector of the Board of Visitors.

The BOV plans to meet again tomorrow to consider Sullivan's reinstatement.  Below is a full transcription of Powell's remarks. To watch the entire event as it unfolded, watch the U.Va. video stream archive. For questions or information, contact communication@darden.virginia.edu or a member of the Communication team.

 

24 June 2012

Remarks from Darden Professor Elizabeth Powell

I'm grateful that the organizers of this event invited me this morning to represent Darden's voice at this rally. My reasons for being here are profoundly professional and personal. I have two degrees from the University of Virginia. I've been a past leader in the Faculty Senate. I've taught for 18 years at the Darden School, where, oddly enough, I teach leadership and crisis communication.

Rally for Honor SignOne of the things that I talk with my students about when I teach leadership,  presence and choosing moments to speak, is to speak your mind from your heart, even when your voice shakes.

I admit that my voice is shaking a little bit now. But not, perhaps, for the reasons you might be thinking.

I'm here because I'm profoundly proud of the Darden School and its solidarity with the University of Virginia, as demonstrated by Bob Bruner's signature on the deans' letter to the BOV asking for the reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan.

I do ask those who are gathered here today not to fall into an easy trap. The easy and available discourse of, "you know, the problem with business people …" I challenge you to have more discernment, and judgment and wisdom, and refrain from stock stereotypes about our students and our school. The day that this story broke, I opened up a discussion board online for my students.  These are my MBA for Executives students, who are working professionals, who are actually still in school, and during this crisis, have been in exams. But some of them took the time to share their thoughts, and I'd like you to hear their voices.

"What I find most fascinating about this whole ordeal is the BOV's communication strategies. There may be very good reasons the president was asked to resign. Who am I to pass judgment on the decision when I have no proximity to the issues?  . . . Maybe universities MUST transform through sacrifice in order to stay at the edge of innovation and to be financially sound. But that's not the discussion we've been engaged in by Dragas.  . . . The conversation that Dragas and the BOV have engaged us in has been one of negativity and drama and speculation and shock and disunity."

Some of my students are even weighing in with ways to see us go forward.

"1. The justifications for change must be presented with intellectual honesty. Of course we all think that we aren't acting with bias at all times, but in truth, that is not typically the case. Thus, our motivations must be kept in check when developing justifications for change, and we must take care not to present fallacious arguments.

"2. Timing is everything. Who knows -  more community members might have agreed with Dragas' assertions had she presented them publicly and prior to taking action, allowing discourse that would have helped shape the outcome in a sober, methodical and collaborative way."

And this from one of my students, who attended West Point, and is a decorated veteran from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"I've been captured by the ongoings at U.Va., and likely my exam scores will be proof of how much. ... Motives, strategy, vision, core values, communication enterprise, the institution, shareholders, leadership, management, negotiations and brand image: All of these things that we learn in hundreds of cases at Darden are important forces and motivations at play as our beloved school struggles to find a new way forward.

" In the days ahead, some might consider this as a dark period for the institution, but I am hoping it could be in fact, one of our finest hours - especially if the ideals of Jefferson's faith in the common person and the principles of Jeffersonian democracy hold true."

Trust is at the heart of the University. Let us see it restored in the coming days.

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